Richard Walker warns of danger of ‘news deserts’ in UK

Leading Scottish journalist Richard Walker, the chair of the newly-launched Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute (SPIJI), has issued a warning on the danger of ‘news deserts’ emerging where there is no-one left to champion local communities. It has already emerged in a study carried out by King’s College in London that more than two-thirds of local authority districts in the UK are not served by a dedicated local daily newspaper that has a significant presence.

Richard, a former editor of the Sunday Herald and launch editor of the pro-Scottish independence morning daily, The National, has been handed the key role of heading this new body. SPIJI was launched by the Scottish Government following a review into the future of journalism in Scotland. As well as its main aim of protecting public interest journalism, the institute also aims to act as a conduit for financial support for journalism where traditional funding models are struggling – including professional local reporting.

Richard explains: ‘A free, independent media is a cornerstone of democracy. But the business model that once supported public interest journalism has been shattered in recent years by the loss of advertising revenues to social media, search engines and online advertising platforms, which, in turn, drastically altered consumer behaviour. As a result, we have seen a dramatic decline in public interest journalism in Scotland, with the danger of news deserts where there is no-one left to champion local communities or hold authority to account.

‘Without public interest journalism, democracy could be driven off a cliff. But to be successful, we need the support of a wide range of partners who recognise that journalism is a public good at the heart of a thriving, modern democracy.’

HoldTheFrontPage (HTFP) reports that the launch of the new body comes after a similar proposal was rejected by the UK Government following the publication of the 2019 Cairncross Review into the future of news provision. A charity, called the Public News Interest Foundation, was, however, launched that year. The SPIJI will also support research into the future of journalism; champion media literacy education; and act as a forum for discussion and debate on all matters about the future health and well-being of independent journalism in Scotland.

Richard Walker emphasises that he wants the new institute to be independent from the Scottish Government and cites the example of the ‘arm’s length’ Dutch Journalism Fund as an initiative that could be followed in Scotland. The Dutch Government-funded project offers grants with a brief to pay special attention to local journalism, investigative journalism and innovation.

Gregor Young reports in The National that the SPIJI brings together a diverse cross-section of industry leaders, academics and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to explore new ways of supporting and funding public service journalism.

He explains: ‘The SPIJI has been launched to act as a focal point for debate and action following a report by the Scottish Government’s short-life working group on public interest journalism. The goals include acting as a conduit for grants and financial support for journalism, supporting research into Scotland’s media landscape, and monitoring developments and trends in Scottish journalism’.

DC Thomson’s six successes in PPA Scotland’s annual awards

Dundee-headquartered DC Thomson (DCT) media publishing group certainly had plenty of reasons to celebrate at the Professional Publishers Association Scotland (PPA Scotland) annual awards ceremony in Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth – picking up six major awards.

Robert Wight, the editor of DCT’s The Scots Magazine, won the Editor of the Year award and the Beano, the world’s longest-running children’s comic, picked up two top awards – winning both the Children’s Magazine and Event categories.

There was further success for the DC Thomson stable with The People’s Friend magazine triumphing in the Media Brand category; My Weekly lifting the Newsletter award; and Wullie Marr, a photographer with Aberdeen-based The Press and Journal (P&J) morning daily and the Evening Express, coming out tops in the Editorial Photograph of the Year category.

It was also very much a successful night for publishers, Think, with five award winners. These included Brand Extension of the Year, won by the National Trust for Scotland’s Love Scotland Podcast; Podcast of the Year, which also went to the Love Scotland Podcast; Customer/Member Publication, won by the Royal Photographic Society’s RPS Journal; and the Magazine Cover award, also going to the RPS Journal.

One of the more colourful winners was the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ News which came out tops in the Business Publication category. It is also published by Think, and was Think’s fifth award on the night.

Also in celebratory mood was Mandy Rhodes, the frequent award-winning editor of the influential fortnightly Holyrood magazine. Mandy picked up two top awards in her own right – Writer of the Year and Best Columnist – while Holyrood magazine was the winner in the Commercial Performance category.

I was very pleased to see that Rhiannon J Davies, editor of the Greater Govanhill magazine, was highly commended in the Editor of the Year category as I have been following Rhiannon’s progress with this most commendable community media project for some time.

My congratulations to Eilidh Akilade, of The Skinny publication, who triumphed in the Young Journalist of the Year category.

The full list of winners is:

Editor of the Year
Winner: Robert Wight, The Scots Magazine, DC Thomson
Highly commended: Rhiannon J Davies, Greater Govanhill community magazine

Brand Extension of the Year
Winner: Love Scotland Podcast, National Trust for Scotland, Think

Business Publication
Winner: Surgeons’ News, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Think

Children’s Magazine
Winner: Beano, DC Thomson

Winner: Mandy Rhodes, Holyrood, Dods Group

Commercial Performance
Winner: Holyrood, Dods Group

Consumer Publication
Winner: Enable Magazine, DC Publishing
Highly commended: The Big Issue

Customer/Member Publication
Winner: RPS Journal, Royal Photographic Society, Think

Winner: Adele Juraza, Beer 52

Editorial Photograph of The Year
Winner: ‘Amanda Buchan’, by Wullie Marr, P&J and Evening Express

Winner: The Art of Breaking The Rules, Beano, DC Thomson

Winner: The List, List Publishing

Magazine Cover
Winner: Six young photographers to watch, RPS Journal, Think

Media Brand

Winner: The People’s Friend, DC Thomson


Winner: My Weekly, DC Thomson


Winner: Love Scotland Podcast, National Trust for Scotland, Think

Sustainability Initiative

Winner: COP26

Writer of the Year
Winner: Mandy Rhodes, Holyrood, Dods Group
Highly commended: Gemma Fraser, 1919 Magazine

Young Journalist
Winner: Eilidh Akilade, The Skinny

Three Scottish tabloids continue to show marked sales decline

No UK national newspapers saw print circulation growth in October – whether year-on-year or month-on-month. Meanwhile, in Scotland, DC Thomson’s The Sunday Post, with a sale of 46,498 copies, was 5% down on a month-to-month basis and showing a decline of 22% year-on-year.

Reach Scotland’s Daily Record, with a sale of 64,971 copies, was down 3% on a month-to-month basis and showing a decline of 18% year-on-year, while its sister newspaper, the Sunday Mail, with a sale of 62,875 copies, was in much the same boat – down 4% month-on-month and declining by 19% year-on-year.

The latest ABC figures show the smallest declines among paid-for newspapers were at the i morning daily – down 3% year-on-year to 140,196 – the only single-figure annual decline, and the Financial Times, down 1% month-on-month to 112,478.

Press Gazette reports that many national newspapers had seen month-on-month growth in September – likely down to an interest in souvenir editions following the death of the Queen. The biggest drops between September and October, possibly indicating the newspapers with the biggest boost from the national mourning period, were at the Daily MailMail on Sunday and the Daily Express, which all fell by 8% month-on-month.

The biggest annual decline in the UK, excluding The Sunday Post, was at Reach plc’s tabloid, the Sunday People, down 21%. The Daily ExpressFinancial Times and Daily Star Sunday all saw year-on-year falls of 19%.

I am unable to give figures for The SunTimes and Telegraph titles, which have all chosen to keep their ABC circulations private since the start of 2020. The Guardian and The Observer joined them in September 2021.


The last ABC figures for these titles were:

The Sun: 1,210,915 (March 2020)
The Sun on Sunday: 101,377(March 2020)
The Sunday Times: 647,622 (March 2020)
The Times: 365,880 (March 2020)
Daily Telegraph: 317,817 (December 2019)
Sunday Telegraph: 248,288 (December 2019)
The Observer: 136,656 (July 2021)
The Guardian: 105,134 (July 2021)

BBC upholds complaint of ‘pro-SNP bias’ over book broadcast

The BBC has upheld a complaint of ‘pro-SNP bias’ over the broadcasting of a book by Professor Devi Sridhar, pictured above,  which discussed the UK and Scottish governments’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sridhar had been a public health adviser to the Scottish Government over the course of the pandemic and her book on the crisis has now fallen foul of the BBC’s impartiality standards.

Preventable: How a Pandemic Changed the World and How to Prevent the Next One had been serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in the lead-up to the Scottish local council elections – with one segment discussing the effect former government adviser Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle had on public health.

One listener subsequently complained that the broadcast had been ‘politically partial’ towards the local elections with a pro-SNP bias. The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit subsequently upheld the complaint following an internal investigation. This came despite the BBC finding that the handling of the pandemic by the Scottish and UK governments had not been a ‘significant issue in the election campaign’ and that ‘the proximity of the elections was not a bar to scheduling what was regarded as an evidence-based appraisal by a respected scientist’.

The reasoning behind upholding the complaint was that the material regarding Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle had gone ‘somewhat beyond that description’.

The report added: ‘In the context of a campaign in which an invitation to compare Nicola Sturgeon with Boris Johnson was a prominent part of the SNP’s strategy, [it] could have given the impression of favouring one party over another’. It concluded: ‘To that extent, it fell short of the BBC’s standards of impartiality’.

Should you wish to get in touch with me, please email me at:

Caithness-born Hamish Mackay is now in his 57th year as an occasional/sometimes regular contributor to the UK’s exceedingly diverse media market. This media review appears weekly in the Scottish Review.

Leave a Reply